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Jay Ashcroft pushes Parson for special elections for vacant Missouri House seats

Gov. Mike Parson’s refusal to call special elections for six vacancies in the Missouri House is drawing criticism from the state’s top election official.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who like Parson is a Republican, sent a letter to the governor Wednesday pointing to a state law requiring special elections be called “without delay” when legislative vacancies occur.

If Parson takes action by Monday, Ashcroft wrote, the special elections can be held concurrently with the April 5 municipal elections in order to avoid addition costs to taxpayers.

A failure to act, Ashcroft wrote, will mean Missourians living in those districts have no representation in the House during the legislative session that kicked off Wednesday.

“As a state, it is critical that we take the appropriate steps to ensure that all Missourians are fairly, justly and equitably represented at all levels of government,” Ashcroft wrote. “By calling a special election, these vacant seats can be filled and the constituents of these districts can again have full representation in the Missouri General Assembly.”

Two of the vacancies were created when Parson appointed lawmakers to jobs in his administration. One was the result of a Republican Rick Roeber’s expulsion, while another was the sudden death of Rep. Tom Hannegan. Two other Republican lawmakers resigned Wednesday to take jobs in the private sector.

The six vacancies means the GOP no longer holds a super majority in the Missouri House. While that leaves them with plenty of votes to advance their agenda, it is short of a veto-proof majority — and complicate efforts to draw eight new Congressional maps.

In order for the new maps to go into effect in time for the Aug. 2 primary, the legislature will need to approve an emergency clause. Doing so requires a two-thirds majority, and thus, will require help from Democrats.

Ashcroft, along with members of the Senate’s conservative caucus, has called for a map that gives Republicans seven of the state’s eight congressional districts. Currently, Democrats Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City and Cori Bush of St. Louis hold two of the state’s seats.

Parson refused to call lawmakers back into session in the fall to debate and approve the maps, leaving the legislature scrambling in the first month of the 2022 session to finish its work. And without a super majority, GOP leaders have said a map targeting a safe Democratic district in Kansas City is unlikely.

The issue of filling legislative vacancies has drawn controversy before.

In 2014, a lawsuit against then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, was filed seeking to force him to call special elections to fill four vacant legislative seats. Nixon eventually convened those special elections.

A threat of litigation was made against Parson in 2020 when he appointed both state senators from Kansas City to positions in his administration.

While Parson has faced a smattering of calls for him to take action, Ashcroft is by far the most prominent official to enter the debate. In his letter, he pointed out that in January 2021 Parson called for a special election to fill an open House seat.

Kelli Jones, the governor’s spokeswoman, did not respond to a request for comment on Ashcroft’s letter.

This article by Jason Hancock is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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